The Best New Camping Gear of the Year
We pick the top tents, sleeping bags, gadgets, and cooking tools for the perfect camping trip
Everyone knows that the spring fishing gets hot once the dogwood leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear, and so does the hankering for the newest—and best—camping gear. While the incorporation of technology into camping gear continues with new USB-rechargeable electronics and the like, what is striking about the 2020 crop of envy-worthy new camping gear is how technology is being used not to make stuff more techie but make stuff more usable—lighter and stronger and more capable. That’s a trend we can get behind, as we pack these 10 new items into our camp duffels.
Klymit Cross Canyon 2
The Klymit Cross Canyon 2 Amazon
With a freestanding design, premium lightweight aluminum poles, and two entry doors, this backwoods house packs in serious features for the money. A pair of large roof-vent panels keeps the air moving, and nifty corner and overhead stash pockets prevent snack bags, grain bars, and flashlights from going AWOL in the night. The pre-bent pole setup holds the tent walls out from the interior to maximize space so you dress in the tent or sit out a thunderstorm playing poker with your pal. When it’s time to roll—literally and figuratively—the nifty Cross Canyon Mat serves as both a stuff sack and a work station where all the tent components are kept off the ground for easy, clean breakdown.
Big Agnes Echo Park 40 Degree Sleeping Bag
The Big Agnes Echo Park Synthetic Bag Amazon
I’m a tosser, turner, and sleeping-bag thrasher, so tight-fitting mummy bags don’t work. But I sleep like a baby in this bag. It’s cut tall and wide, and while I’m neither, I love the extra space. The top opening isn’t constricted like a mummy, so I can hunker down with a pillow and sleep with my hands tucked into the corner hand pockets. All Echo Series bags have double zippers that zip completely off the bag, turning the traditional bag into a monstrous camp comforter when you don’t need a full-on sleeping bag. And I’ve long been a ginormous fan of the Big Agnes strategy for sleeping pads: Their top-shelf pads slip into an ingenious pad sleeve to mate the bag and pad seamlessly together. Instead of slipping and sliding off your sleeping pad, you can twist and turn all night long like a turkey on a spit and still stay comfortably on the pad. It’s not a sleeping bag for backpacking, but for camp, cabin, or car, this is the sleeping bag to dream about.
Yakima Double Haul
The Yakima Double Haul. Amazon
With all the other equipment crowding my truck bed on a camping trip, dealing with multiple 9-foot fly rods is a serious pain. I’ve tried a few D.I.Y. solutions, such as hanging rods with bungee cords. My buddy has a homemade PVC pipe rack bolted to his roof, but it looks like he’s got a side gig as a Minuteman rocket repair dude. Yakima provides rod relief with this highly engineered rooftop carrier that can swallow 4 fully-rigged 10-foot fly rods without so much as a burp. The reel box can hold everything from tiny trout reels to giant 12-weight tarpon reels, and a unique side-placement arrangement keeps pressure off the rod guides during transport. The Double Haul collapses into a customizable 6-foot length if you don’t need the full size. It comes with key locks and universal mounting hardware that fits—of course—all Yakima crossbars but also customized to lock down on most other roof racks. Nice touch.
UCO 6-Piece Mess Kit
The UCO 6-Piece Mess Kit. Amazon
It’s the little things that make camping life go more smoothly, and this slim, packable mess kit definitely makes it easy to stow and haul your personal place setting. The 6-piece kit includes a bowl, plate, collapsible mug, fork, and spoon/knife combo, all tethered together with an elastic band. The plate also serves as a lid for the bowl, with a double gasket that will keep your gruel from slopping out into a pack. And the rubberized grips on the lid and bowl help keep them from sliding off ice shelves or the front dash of your pickup truck. The whole shebang is dishwasher safe, microwave-friendly, and BPA-free. It’s the 21st-century version of the aluminum mess kits of yore.
Streamlight Microstream USB
The Streamlight Microstream USB flashlight. Amazon
Flashlights now come with so much technology, you practically need a spreadsheet to figure out how to toggle between a half-dozen light modes and a rainbow’s worth of colors. That’s why I love the simplicity of the Microstream. Now available in a USB-rechargeable platform, this super-compact hand torch—it measures less than 4 inches long—comes with 2 modes, high and low. High gets you a 250-lumens white beam that reaches nearly 70 yards and will burn for 2.5 hours. The low setting, at 50 lumens, is enough white light for camp tasks and trail-finding for 3.5 hours. It’s easy and fast to toggle between the two with the rubber-armored tail switch, and there’s a removable pocket clip that will hold firmly to your hat brim for conversion into a headlamp.
The YETI Trailhead. Amazon
Flimsy, prone to rust in a heavy dew, and with the back support of an overcooked lasagna noodle—that’s been the basic description of folding camp chairs ever since we evolved beyond sitting on a rock. It’s no surprise, perhaps, that YETI took its highly engineered, fix-all-the-stuff-that-sucks approach to the lowly camp chair. This next-gen lounger takes the popular Hondo chair design and marries it to a collapsible frame that can still cradle 500 pounds and a keister as wide as 24 inches. The result gets high marks from trout, elk, and deer, because you might not want to leave camp after sitting down. The Flexgrid fabric is designed to be pressure-point-free and will handle saltwater and UV rays without a blink. The extra-wide feet are designed to be used outdoors—on rock, muck, or sand. And since it’s a YETI, it comes with a customizable cup holder you can affix to either the left or right seat frame without giving up a square inch of the armrest. The Trailhead tips the scales at 13.3 pounds, so it’s not the solution to backcountry glassing for elk. But the sturdy bag comes with double straps so you can sling it over one shoulder or hump it backpack-style as deep into the woods as you like.
The Primus Firestick. Amazon
I own bass plugs that are bigger than this tiny, powerful, backpacking stove. When folded up, the Firestick is a hair over 4 inches long and 1.4 inches in diameter. In stainless steel, it weighs a wispy 3.7 ounces. The titanium build shaves off another 6 ounces. But it still pumps out a blistering 8,530 BTUs of heat using easy-to-find gas canisters, which is hot enough to boil water in four and a half minutes. That rocket-launching flame is paired to a regulator valve that can dial down the heat to a mere warming simmer, and it’s lit with an included matchstick-style piezo lighter. In a stiff breeze, the stove’s pot supports and recessed burner help blunt wind. In your pack or pocket, those supports fold over the stove’s burner to protect it from damage. This incredibly tiny stove pushes the envelope on portability, making it a no-brainer whether you need to pack a stove for a duck blind soup break or a riverside fish fry.
Big Agnes Woodchuck Camp Table
The Big Agnes Woodchuck Camp Table. Amazon
It’s the classic camping conundrum: Where to set your drink or dinner plate? Where to dice your lunch salami? Where to gather for a game of backcountry gin rummy? At a hair over 2 pounds and a packed size of less than 2 feet long, this portable camp table is the answer. The stout clips secure to the pole frame to create a flat, rigid surface stable enough to serve for kitchen prep or to hold drinks. It’s a breeze to put up, thanks to the shock-corded aircraft aluminum poles and a hubless architecture that foregoes flimsy plastic connections. The tabletop sits 17 inches off the ground, a perfect height to pair with a folding camp chair so you don’t have to place your beer on the ground. Think of it as a civilized version of a couple of rocks and a log.
Pelican 1506 Air Case
The Pelican 1506 Air Case. Amazon
I bought my first Pelican case to carry my cameras and lenses on a nearly-3-week Alaskan fishing and hunting trip that involved trucks, planes, and rafts. I cleaned ptarmigan and char on the top of that case, used it as a camp table, and stood on it to reach the spare tires on the Jeep when the rough roads of the Dalton Highway chewed up our tires. That was more than a decade ago, and it’s still 100-percent usable. Pelican’s new Long/Deep line of protective polymer satchels in the lighter Air Case line will see quadruple duty. With an interior space of 18.7 x 9.4 x 7.8 inches, the 1506 model is deep enough to carry all of my electronics on car camping trips, from laptops to phones to LED lights. It’ll tote a couple of motion ducks, easy. It’ll serve as a deluxe canoe kitchen. And it’ll likely be pressed into service as a camp stool. Completely waterproof, with a purge value to balance air pressure while on flights, the Long/Deep Pelican cases might very well replace all my plastic totes. If my first Pelican case is going strong after 10 years, I’ll probably save money in the long run.
The AeroPress Go. Amazon
The new camp-friendly version of the wildly popular AeroPress is tailored for both front country and backcountry use. Packed inside a 15-ounce mug are everything needed for top-shelf French press java or espresso: scoop, stirrer, plunger, lid and, more. When used with the proprietary microfilter—350 come with purchase, and additional microfilters are a paltry $5—there’s no grit and grinds like in a traditional French press. Just heat water, charge the Go, and suck down life-giving java in about 60 seconds.